Composition is a set of guidelines and techniques to help you to visually-interesting photos. Here are 10 composition tips that’ll improve your photos.
Editor’s note: This post was originally published in May 2019. It’s been freshened up with new pictures and commentary on November 11, 2019.
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What’s composition in photography?
I’d hear the word “composition” every time I talked to or was around another photographer. However, it took me a while to figure it out because I was to intimidated to ask.
Composition is the organization of subjects to create an eye-catching and aesthetic portrait. Let’s dive into the best composition tips for any portrait photographer.
10 composition tips for beginners
Along with this knowledge, you must put it into action. Be sure to practice these tips and techniques.
1. Rule of thirds
The rule of thirds is one of the first photography tips people learn. In your camera, you can display the 3×3 grid which results in 4 intersections.
The focus in portrait photography is your subject’s eyes.
The points at which the lines meet are the key points of interest, and you should try and place your subject’s eyes on, or near one of these points.
If you’re shooting from further away, place your subject at one of the intersections.
2. Use leading lines
When shooting portraits, keep an eye out for elements in your image that produce lines. An example of this is railings, trees, roads, or horizons.
Leading lines are very easy to find in an urban setting.
Intentionally use these lines in an image, to direct your viewer’s eyes towards your subject.
3. No lines through your subject’s head
This goes hand in hand with leading lines. When using leading lines, be careful to not have any lines going through your subject’s head. This is also called spearing.
When this happens, it causes an undesired effect and makes the portrait look “off”.
The solution is to keep your subjects head in between lines and when shooting with a horizon, keep their head above or below it.
Spearing is one of the best photography tips because it makes a big difference in your portraits.
4. Shoot from a different angle
It’s very easy to get caught shooting the same angle every single time. Try out different angles, to get different types of portraits.
By shooting at angles you wouldn’t normally shoot, it sparks more creativity in you and you can produce a variety of images.
5. Leading space
Whether you’re photographing animals or humans, always give your subject space in front of the side they’re facing. This is also known as breathing space or leading space.
For example, if your subject is looking to the right, make sure there’s space to the right of them. If the edge of the photo is right next to their face, the image will feel tight and restrictive.
It’s as if the subject is looking at a wall, which creates an awkward feel to the photo.
6. Rule of odd numbers
The Rule of Odd Numbers states that a viewer prefers odd numbers over even numbers.
You can apply this to your photography by photographing by breaking large groups into 3 people per group or shooting a photo of 5 mountain peaks instead of 6.
Now, there are areas where this isn’t possible so apply the Rule of Odds as you see fit.
For example, if you’re shooting engagement photos for a couple, you don’t want to isolate them because you want to use the Rule of Odds.
Your clients want photos together, so the Rule of Odd Numbers would not apply in this scenario.
7. Change your f-stop
It’s easy to use the same aperture and f-stop throughout an entire photoshoot. However, to evolve as a photographer, learn how to utilize deep and shallow depths of field.
Another way to use different depths of field is to integrate things into the foreground or background.
For example, if you’re shooting portraits outdoors, you can integrate a blurred out bush in the foreground to add visual interest.
8. Fill the frame
Filling the frame with your subject means leaving little to no space around your subject.
When you fill the frame with your subject, you make the entire photo focused on your subject. There aren’t any distractions around to draw a viewer’s eyes away from the subject.
Another reason to fill the frame is when you’re photographing a subject with a distracting background. Zooming in or cropping the image is a great way to isolate your subject.
Triangles are in almost every photo you take. A triangle in photography is a great compositional tool that combines three points of interest.
When you’re using triangles to connect three points of interest, remember that there may not be a clear and straight line.
Instead, focus on grouping three important subjects together to create a triangle.
10. Frame the subject
Framing your subject is a great way to create a visually-interesting photo while making it clear that the focus is your subject.
When you frame your subject, it draws your viewer’s eyes to your subject, very similar to leading lines.
The key to create eye-catching portraits is to use composition. It takes knowledge and skill to compose elements in an image to draw and hold the viewer’s attention.
Using these composition tips, you’ll up-level your portraits. However, the advice listed above are guidelines and not strict rules. Get creative and learn your art.
It’s OK to break the rules and try new things. In fact, I’d encourage you to break the rules because it’ll ensure you don’t get stuck in a box.
Most importantly, have fun.
Featured photo by Unsplash.